The increasing number of Palestinian civilian casualties unintentionally inflicted by Israel in its effort to stop rocket attacks against its own civilians reflects the success of the terrorists’ policy.
The goal of Palestinian terrorism is to increase the number of civilian deaths on both sides. Yes, the Palestinian terrorists who now fire rockets into Israel from Gaza want the IDF to kill Palestinian women, children and old men. If they did not, they would fire their rockets from isolated areas, where there are no civilians. Instead, they deliberately fire their rockets from heavily populated civilian areas in order to induce Israel to cause the highest possible number of Palestinian civilian casualties.
Every time the Israeli military accidentally kills a Palestinian civilian, the Palestinian terrorists win a propaganda and political victory. The more children and women the Israelis kill, the bigger the Palestinian propaganda victory.
No wonder the victims are treated as martyrs. They are the new suicide terrorists – only they did not volunteer to die for the cause. They were “volunteered” by the terrorists who selected their neighborhood as the place from which to fire their missiles.
This is not a new tactic. As one European diplomat told The New York Times several years ago: “The Palestinians have mastered the harsh arithmetic of pain… Palestinian casualties play in their favor and Israeli casualties play in their favor. Non-violence doesn’t pay.”
IT MAY be difficult for some decent people to believe that Palestinian terrorists are actually trying to increase the number of casualties among their own civilians, but the evidence is overwhelming.
Not only do the terrorists seek to draw Israeli fire into heavily populated civilian areas, they use children as suicide bombers without even telling them that they have been “volunteered” to die.
Perhaps the most notorious example of this deadly form of child abuse took place in 2004, when an 11-year-old Palestinian child was paid one dollar to take a parcel through Israeli security. Unbeknownst to the child the parcel contained a bomb that was supposed to be detonated remotely as he was passing through the checkpoint.
Fortunately for him, and for the Israelis at the checkpoint, the plot was foiled. After the Israeli authorities determined that the boy was an innocent dupe, they released him to his parents.
His mother blamed the Israelis.
Terrorists who are prepared to sacrifice a child for the cause are prepared to sacrifice other civilians as well. The religious zealots among them do not even regard their deaths as sacrifices, since the martyrs are expected to go to paradise where they – or at least the men among them – will be served by 72 virgins. (Perhaps the female child victims will serve as the virgins.)
This despicable “culture of death” promoted by extremist Islamic imams, in which an honorable death – even if not voluntarily chosen – is deemed preferable to life, is the major cause of Islamic terrorism.
Nor can terrorism of this sort be deterred by the prospect of imprisonment, or even death. It must be prevented before it can be carried out. That is why the Israeli military has been aggressively attacking those who are preparing to fire rockets into Israeli towns and cities.
This is not to justify every Israeli attack. Even if the Palestinian terrorists welcome the killing of their own civilians, Israel should refrain from taking action when the risk to civilians is disproportionately high. Israel should hold itself to a higher standard, when it comes to Palestinian civilian lives, than the Palestinian terrorists themselves do.
WHAT THEN should Israel do? It cannot simply tolerate the killing of its civilian population. No Western democracy would do that. Israel has already ended the occupation of the Gaza Strip, and the rocket attacks have only increased. Were it to withdraw from most of the West Bank – either unilaterally or as part of a negotiated settlement – there is no reason to believe the attacks would end. Indeed, there is some reason to believe they might increase, since it is far easier to fire rockets from areas with no Israeli military presence than from areas under the control of the Israeli military.
I believe Israel should follow the route once proffered by the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin: to pursue peace as if there was no terrorism, while fighting terrorists as if there were no prospects for peace.
Despite the risks of increased terrorism, every effort should be made to pursue the possibility of a two-state solution. This will not be easy with Hamas now in power, but public opinion polls continue to show a significant majority of Palestinians in favor of some sort of two-state solution.
That’s a start. If a negotiated two-state solution isn’t possible with Hamas calling the shots, then Israel should go forward with the plan for unilateral withdrawal behind the security barrier.
At the same time, it must continue to attack those who are in the process of firing rockets at Israeli civilians; but it must do a better job of reducing the number of civilian casualties.
If it is true that Palestinian terrorists benefit from every increase in both Palestinian and Israeli civilian casualties, then it is equally true that Israel benefits from every decrease in such casualties.
Among the best deterrents against Palestinian rocket attacks would be for Israel to stop creating martyrs – and propaganda objects – among Palestinian civilians.
The writer, a frequent contributor to this newspaper, is Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.